Daytona 500 Predictions and Notes

Longer days, pitchers and catchers reporting and the Daytona 500. To me, these are the sure signs of spring. This week, thousands of race fans from all over the world will make the trek to the Sunshine State where they will find warmer weather and fast cars. It’s the 60th running of the Daytona 500 and NASCAR fans are fired up. There is plenty of things to watch out for.

Daytona 500 Predictions and Notes

In with the new

No Jeff Gordon, No Tony Stewart, No Dale Earnhardt Jr., No problem? Well, I’m not so sure of that but man is the sports flush with some super-talented young drivers. At the top of any list would be Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney who have already made their marks in the series. Last season Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez showed flashes of brilliance as well. This season the 20-year-old college student, William Byron joins as good of a group of young drivers the sport has ever seen. Could one of these young drivers win their first Daytona 500 Sunday? It very well could happen.

New Rules

There is a new inspection process in place that replaces the former template and laser system utilized in the past by NASCAR. That system was somewhat slow and at times cars were delayed getting on the track. The new system promises to be quicker. Normally that would be a huge story as far as rule changes go but this season it is not even close.

NASCAR will now allow only five people over the wall for pit stops, down from the previous six. In addition, the gas can man will not be able to do any work except fuel the vehicle. Teams are using a different procedure to do their pit stops. One thing is for sure, the pit stops will be longer this season and races maybe lost on pit road.

The Race

During the Clash last weekend, we witnessed a ton of single file laps. Erik Jones was asked about this after the race and he blamed the handling of the cars. The rear-end has been lowered which certainly helps in increasing the catch-up speed of the cars. It reduces the amount of air on the rear spoiler which makes handing difficult.

Under normal circumstances, the ill-handling cars may encourage single file racing on Sunday. But given the importance of stage points, I suspect we will see plenty of the pack racing we’ve come to expect at a restrictor plate race. I wouldn’t necessarily bet that the single file racing we all witnessed at the Clash will repeat itself Sunday. Those stage points are important.

Picking a winner at Daytona is about as easy as picking the correct lottery numbers. Well maybe not that difficult, but luck plays a huge role in this race. The winner will have to avoid crashing out. You can be minding your own business making laps and all of a sudden get caught up in someone else’s mess and there isn’t a thing you can do about it. It is white-knuckle time for owners and body repair workers alike.

I’m fond of the drivers. I think in a few years the names Larson, Elliott and Byron will be part of the NASCAR fans vocabulary, every bit as much as Gordon, Stewart and Junior are today. I just don’t think we’ll hear one of their names at the end of Sunday’s 500.

The Winner

Avoid the big one and have lots of friends at the end. That’s the formula for winning a restrictor plate race. Sounds a lot easier said than done.

Dale Earnhardt’s former Crew Chief, Kevin Hamlin could see air. Earnhardt was so good at drafting that many believed Hamlin. For my money, Brad Keselowski is as good at restrictor plate racing as anyone in the series today. If I was forced to pick one driver to take the checkered flag on Sunday I’d take the #2 Penske Ford of Brad Keselowski.

Notes:  Actress Charlize Theron will wave the green flag to start the Daytona 500 on Sunday…….. Green flag waves to start the Daytona 500 at 3:05 pm ET……… Rascal Flats will provide the prerace entertainment in front of the Grandstand………. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will give the command.

Thanks for reading.  Listen to WTBQ radio on Monday and Friday mornings at 8:45 as I join Frank, Taylor and the Morning Show gang to discuss all the current happenings in NASCAR.  1110AM 93.5FM or online at WTBQ.COM.  You can also follow me on twitter @JimLaplante

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